Daily News- May 24- 2002- Friday

  • Democracy leader Suu Kyi wants early talks with Myanmar junta
  • Aung San Suu Kyi says Myanmar dialogue must include everyone
  • Dissidents Call Remarks Inappropriate
  • Myanmar Media Call For Safeguarding Sovereignty
  • Thai army angered by pull-back
  • Suu Kyi says party activities still restricted
  • Burma trial first prosecution witness accuses ex-dictator's relatives

  • Democracy leader Suu Kyi wants early talks with Myanmar junta

    BANGKOK, Thailand, May 23 - Myanmar opposition leader Aug San Suu Kyi said Thursday that talks with military leaders about a transition to democracy should begin soon or hopes for any immediate changes will fade.

    Suu Kyi told The Associated Press there was no start date for negotiating with the generals who robbed her of power after landmark democratic elections 12 years ago.

    ''I do not know, quite frankly (when talks will take place), but I certainly do not think that it should take months because that would be unfortunate,'' she said. ''It might have the effect of making some people skeptical about the process.'' She added, ''If it were entirely up to us it would happen as soon as possible.''

    The United States and the European Union discourage trade and investment with Myanmar to protest military suppression of democracy.

    Suu Kyi said her National League for Democracy party, or NLD, will not change its policies regarding international trade sanctions until ''we have started discussing these with the authorities over the negotiating table.'' The NLD still is formulating its positions for the talks, although one prime concern is obtaining the release of political prisoners, she said.

    The 12th anniversary of elections is May 27, and Suu Kyi indicated the NLD would issue policy resolutions and hold a commemorative ceremony at its Yangon headquarters. Suu Kyi said she bears no animosity toward the ruling generals but said they have to recognize that democracy is crucial to the country's economic growth.

    ''They would have to accept that a genuine free market economy requires a democratic framework,'' she said.

    Suu Kyi also addressed the perennial problem of ethnic tensions, which surfaced earlier this week when rebels fighting near the Thai border sparked artillery fire between the Thai and Myanmar armies.The countries have been at odds for centuries and frequently accuse each another of supporting guerrillas along the border. The guerrillas are not directly aligned with Suu Kyi's movement.The activities of Myanmar's anti-government rebels not only have irritated bilateral relations, they also pose a challenge for any future government trying to hold the country together.

    Suu Kyi said she credits the government for its many cease-fire agreements with insurgent groups, saying they are ''a move in the right direction but they are not the same as a political settlement.''

    ''Within a democratic framework, different ethnic nationalities can sort out their problems by talking with each other rather than by taking up arms,'' Suu Kyi said. ''I'm very confident that in a genuine democratic system there will no longer be any ethnic insurgencies.''

    The opposition leader has tested her new freedom by twice traveling to NLD branch offices in this nation formerly called Burma. She said she would focus on rebuilding her party domestically before traveling overseas.

    Earlier Thursday, elder democracy campaigners honored her in the capital, Yangon. She urged veteran politicians to nurture a new generation while warning that democracy alone ''cannot solve all the country's woes, and more difficulties lie ahead.''

    She also told ethnic leaders of political parties that their participation in the democracy movement was essential if the country was to achieve stability and prosperity.

    Aung San Suu Kyi says Myanmar dialogue must include everyone

    YANGON, May 23 (AFP) - Freed pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi said Thursday that Myanmar's different political and ethnic groups were important to resolving the military-ruled country's severe problems.

    "The right to have diverse views is a democratic right... The important thing is to bring them (the groups) to the negotiating table for an amicable solution," Aung San Suu Kyi said.She was speaking during a function held in her honour by a group of veteran politicians representing various ethnic groups, including the Shan, Mons, Chins, and Arakanese.

    The National League for Democracy chief said the presence of some leaders of the groups boded well for the nation's future.

    "I am very glad to see leaders of the ethnic groups at this function... I consider this a good sign for the future of our country as it is essential that they are also part of the process towards future peace and prosperity," she said.

    Some 20 elderly politicians -- ranging from 80 to 87 years old -- presented the Nobel Peace laureate with two miniature flags in memory of her late father General Aung San, considered the architect of Myanmar's independence.

    "In the same way that General Aung San was the architect of independence, we see Daw Aung San Suu Kyi as the nation's architect of democracy," the veteran politicians said in a statement.

    General Aung San was assassinated months before the country won independence from Britain in 1948.

    The statement added that for any political dialogue to be "meaningful", the authorities should speedily and unconditionally release all other political prisoners."We on our part will, despite our old age, pledge to do our best for as long as we are alive," the statement said.

    The group included Bohmu Aung, a colleague of General Aung San and member of the famous Thirty Comrades, who spearheaded armed resistance against the occupying Japanese during World War II."We want to see democracy become a reality before we are all gone," one veteran told AFP.

    Analysts say Myanmar cannot envision a future without participation of its many ethnic minorities.Myanmar is a vast mosaic with seven principal ethnic groups, in addition to the ethnic majority Burmans, divided into some 135 tribal groups.Aung San Suu Kyi was freed on May 6 after 19 months under house arrest.

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    Dissidents Call Remarks Inappropriate

    By Ko Cho
    The Irrawaddy

    May 23, 2002 - Burmese dissidents are furious over claims made last week by Burma's Home Affairs Minster Col Tin Hlaing that Burma no longer is detaining any political prisoners. The statement was made on Sunday in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia a day before an Asean Interior Ministers’ meeting on counter terrorism was set to begin.

    "Myanmar does not have political prisoners," said Tin Hlaing. "These people are detained for cooperating with insurgent groups and carrying out insurgent attacks."Tin Hlaing is also chairperson for the National Human Rights Committee in Burma, which makes him responsible for the well being of the country's prisoners.

    "This is a deep lie," said U Maung Maung Aye, Social Welfare Minister of the National Coalition Government of Union of Burma (NCGUB). "Student leader Min Ko Naing and U Win Tin are prominent political prisoners and it is very obvious that they have committed no crimes."

    The Free Political Prisoners Campaign Committee (FPPCC), a Burmese human rights group located in Thailand, also released a statement yesterday criticizing Tin Hlaing as well as Burma's military government's statement from May 6 entitled "Turning of a New Page".

    "There are nearly 2,000 political prisoners in Burma," said Ko Bo Kyi this morning, a spokesperson for the FPPCC. "We have facts and figures that document no less than 1,600 prisoners. These words are shameless."

    He also said that Min Ko Naing, U Win Tin and U Aye Tha Aung are obviously political prisoners and that Tin Hlaing is only attempting to deflate the ego and ability of the democracy movement.

    The FPPCC said they believe that the unconditional release of all political prisoners will effectively open the way to dialogue, national reconciliation and democratization in Burma.

    The group is also preparing an international photo exhibition to show the world the true situation inside Burma's prisons. The group said the show is tentatively set to begin touring in August and they hope to take it to over 20 countries.

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    Myanmar Media Call For Safeguarding Sovereignty

    YANGON, May 23 (Xinhuanet) -- Official newspaper The New Light of Myanmar called on the people to safeguard its sovereignty together with the armed forces with nationalistic spirit and concept.

    "The Union of Myanmar is in strategic geo-political position and, in addition, abundant in natural resources, all of which must be safeguarded on self-reliance basis," the paper said in its editorial Thursday.The call came three days after border clashes between Myanmar and Thailand which resulted in a tense situation there.

    The paper warned that some big nations are trying to penetrate the culture and social system of developing nations, and influencethem.

    Reports said the anti-government Shan United Revolutionary Army (SURA) launched attacks Monday morning against four surveillance outposts on the Myanmar side along the Myanmar-Thai border.Shortly after the incident, the Thailand and Myanmar exchanged protest notes.Meanwhile, Myanmar government spokesman Major-General Kyaw Win has warned of taking military action to deal with the present situation.

    "Myanmar has always tried to solve the problem through diplomatic means and in a peaceful manner. Myanmar will use other means to solve the problem if the diplomatic means fail and the problems continue to be created," Kyaw Win said.

    Myanmar has unilaterally closed its three border points -- Tachilek, Myawaddy, and Kawthoung, respectively linking Thailand's Maesai, Maesot and Ranong since Wednesday morning.

    Thailand orders troop withdrawal from Myanmar border

    BANGKOK, Thailand - Thailand has ordered the withdrawal of hundreds of its troops from the Myanmar border to ease rising tension between the countries, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said Thursday.He said he hoped the move would encourage Yangon to reopen border checkpoints closed Wednesday, interrupting trade and tourism along the frontier.

    However, Myanmar state radio and television Thursday night broadcast the first official announcement of the closings, on grounds that "the Thai army has been trying to damage friendly Myanmar-Thai relations when the Myanmar government is trying to promote friendly relations."

    Myanmar accused Thailand of firing artillery into its territory Monday to support ethnic rebels. Thai officials said they were engaged in a military exercise and only fired warning shots after some shells landed on Thai soil when fighting spilled over the border.

    Thursday night's announcement from Myanmar said the checkpoints were being closed because "the Thai army has supported and given refuge" to the Shan ethnic rebels.

    Earlier in Bangkok, Thai Prime Minister Thaksin said that because Thai army units had completed their exercise mission, he had ordered them to pull back from the border "to decrease tension and avoid confrontation." "The border closure was the result of a misunderstanding, and I hope that things will get back to normal soon," he said. Thaksin denied Myanmar assertions that the troops acted with the knowledge of Thai leaders.

    On Tuesday in Yangon, a spokesman for the military government said Myanmar "will never allow any infringement on our national sovereignty and territorial integrity by anyone under any pretext" and said it would use "other means" besides diplomacy if necessary to end border clashes.

    Thai authorities said Wednesday that Myanmar border guards had been ordered to close the three main crossings between the two countries opposite Mae Sot, Mae Sai, and the Andaman Sea port of Ranong.Thursday's announcement from Myanmar said a fourth checkpoint, at Phaya Thonezu also known as Three Pagoda Pass had also been closed.Merchants at the border checkpoint at Mae Sot said they were suffering lost business as a result of the closure, with products such as cooking oil, medicine and car parts piling up.

    In the Myanmar town of Myawaddy, opposite Mae Sot, 370 kilometers (230 miles) northwest of Bangkok, local traders were afraid their supplies of onions, garlic, peppers and potatoes destined for Thailand would rot before they could be delivered, local sources said.

    "Since yesterday, both exports and imports have stopped," said Boontian Chokewiwat, Thailand's customs supervisor in Mae Sot.Laborers from Myawaddy who work in Thailand but live in Myanmar have also been affected.The 1,800-kilometer (1,120-mile) border was closed for several months early last year after a similar incident led to several confrontations between Thai and Myanmar soldiers.

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    Thai army angered by pull-back

    Subin Khuenkaew Wassana Nanuam
    The Bangkokpost

    Defence Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh's order demanding the immediate withdrawal of thousands of troops undergoing exercises near the Burmese border has sparked widespread resentment.

    Many senior and middle-ranking officers regard the order as an appeasement of the Burmese military junta at the expense of national security.Speaking on condition of anonymity, one general said the order amounted to a ``slap in the face for the army'' because it gave credit to Rangoon's allegations that Thai troops participating in the exercise were helping Shan rebels in skirmishes with Burmese forces.About 10,000 troops, mostly cavalry units, equipped with tanks, armoured personnel carriers and artillery pieces, took part in the exercise, codenamed Surasi 143, in Mae Hong Son, Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai.

    A cavalry officer said many colleagues felt cheated by the withdrawal order because they harboured deep bitterness against Gen Chavalit going back to the ``Romklao'' border clash between Thai and Lao forces at Ban Romklao, Phitsanulok in the late 80s.Gen Chavalit was then army chief and cavalry troops sustained high casualties in the clash arising from strategic and tactical blunders blamed on the general.

    The exercise, which started on May 1, was part of an army defence plan to cope with border threats, including drugs, and to test its war-readiness.The pull-out order came on Wednesday night, a day after Rangoon sealed all border crossings with Thailand, apparently in retaliation for cross-border shelling by Thai forces. Rangoon accused Thai troops of supporting Shan rebels.The order, directed to Lt-Gen Udomchai Ongkhasing, the Third Army commander, said the exercise should be cancelled immediately and all troops and equipment withdrawn to barracks.Sources said Gen Chavalit's action stunned Lt-Gen Udomchai and Gen Surayud Chulanont, the army commander-in-chief.

    The sources said Gen Chavalit phoned Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt, first secretary of Burma's ruling State Peace and Development Council, and discussed the border situation with Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra before he issued the withdrawal order.Defence spokesman Lt-Gen Suraphan Pumkaew defended the move, saying the order was vital to ease border tension with Burma.The concentration of military might resulting from the exercise might have been misinterpreted, he said.

    ``How could one expect the defence minister to stay indifferent given such a situation?'' said Lt-Gen Suraphan, adding that the military build-up had irritated Rangoon.``I know full well how our soldiers feel but we have to follow the government's policy of strengthening ties with Burma,'' said the spokesman.

    An officer from the Third Army said troops were disheartened.``Why issue such an order since the exercise would be completed within the next few days anyway?'' said the officer.

    Lt-Gen Udomchai said he had ordered some units to move back their heavy military equipment and would hold the closing ceremony today, a day earlier than planned. ``The exercise has caused unease in Burma and the minister wants swift withdrawal of our forces to avoid unnecessary misunderstanding,'' said Lt-Gen Udomchai.

    Gen Surayud is said to disagree with the idea. The army chief believes troops who had accomplished their mission could be recalled but those who had yet to finish should stay.``The exercise was mainly aimed at testing the army's war-readiness and was not intended to intimidate anyone,'' said an army general close to the army commander.

    Gen Surayud yesterday repeated his denial of allegations by Burma intelligence deputy chief Maj-Gen Kyaw Win, that Prime Minister Thaksin and the defence minister gave covert support to the army's artillery attack on Burmese border forces.``We dismiss all allegations from the Burmese side,'' Gen Surayud said, saying that there was no cross-border assault from Thai border forces as reported.``Our duty is to defend the country's sovereignty,'' he said. It was not the first time that Rangoon had accused the Thai army of giving military support to the Shan State Army.

    Gen Surayud said it was also beyond his comprehension why Rangoon decided to close all border checkpoints since the move ran counter to an agreement between the two countries.``We might not be able to resolve Rangoon's dissatisfaction within a short period of time,'' he said.

    Thaksin asks Rangoon to reopen the frontier

    The Bangkokpost

    Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has asked Burma to reopen its border with Thailand, saying the closure is causing economic damage to both countries.A source said Mr Thaksin called in Burmese ambassador U Myo Myint on Wednesday after Rangoon closed its entire border with Thailand.The ambassador left for Rangoon yesterday to meet Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt, first secretary of the ruling State Peace and Development Council, and Gen Maung Aye, the army chief.

    Besides wanting the border reopened, Mr Thaksin asked the ambassador to convey his proposal for Thai-Burmese co-operation in efforts to solve ethnic minority problems, the source said.Thailand has asked that the pro-Rangoon forces of the United Wa State Army be moved deeper inside Burma, away from the border.Rangoon also has been asked to exert more control on the United Wa State Army and tell it to stop producing illicit drugs that have swamped Thailand.

    Thailand has offered to bring the anti-Rangoon Shan State Army under its supervision. Bangkok proposed that neither Wa nor Shan forces would be allowed to mass near the Thai-Burmese border again, the source said.Mr Thaksin also suggested that a joint committee be formed to follow up on implementation of such plans, the source said.

    The prime minister said in an intervire the border closure resulted from a misunderstanding which should be cleared up soon.``We have already withdrawn our troops, which were on a field exercise, from the border. This step hopefully will help reduce tensions on the border,'' Mr Thaksin said.

    Meanwhile, Burma's official newspaper, New Light of Myanmar, stepped up its hardline rhetoric against Thailand yesterday.An article in the newspaper accused the Thai army of providing artillery and armoured support to rebels of the Shan United Revolutionary Army, an anti-Rangoon Shan faction believed to have been involved in Monday's cross-border fighting.

    ``How dare these SURA traitors, who take shelter in Thai territory, receive handouts and do the biddings of their Thai masters, violate our territory and raise their Thai master's flag over our land? It is utterly disgusting,'' said the article.

    ``The Thais have often uttered, `We're neighbours ... We're kith and kin.' But now they have deployed tanks and other heavy weapons to bombard our outposts,'' it said.

    Thai merchants stranded, prices of goods soaring

    Theerawat Khamthita
    The Bangkokpost

    Border traders said the military stand-off with Burma had left hundreds of merchants stranded in the Burmese town of Tachilek.Buntham Thipprasong, from a traders' association in Mae Sai district, said the decision by Rangoon to close the border was costing local traders about 30 million baht per day in lost business.He urged the government to settle the conflict as soon as possible.Talks with Burmese authorities to allow traders stranded across the border to return home had proved fruitless.

    According to one source, soldiers were enforcing an order banning all petrol stations in Tachilek from selling fuel, causing the price of oil in the town to rise to 50 baht per litre. Prices of cooking gas had also jumped from 230 baht to 400 baht per 15kg.Burmese soldiers had reportedly also been stationed opposite Chiang Saen district to prevent imports of Thai goods.

    According to Maj Sakol Apinivet, deputy chairman of the provincial chamber of commerce, the closure could force the country to lose billions of baht in potential income.He said a closure from Feb 11- April 24, 2001, had caused about 3 billion baht in damage to trade and tourism in Chiang Rai.

    A border source said the United Wa State Army had deployed troops in the Burmese town of Pangsang, raising speculation reinforcements would be sent to launch cross-border attacks.

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    Suu Kyi says party activities still restricted

    YANGON, Myanmar - Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who when freed from house arrest earlier this month said that her release was "unconditional," cautioned followers Friday there were still some restrictions on her party's activities.

    The Nobel Peace Prize laureate did not elaborate, but her remarks underlined how far her pro-democracy movement remains from achieving political reconciliation with the country's ruling military junta.

    "Now, we still have some restrictions on our activities," she said in a speech to members of her National League for Democracy in Yangon's Kamayut township. "But since we can carry on with our activities to some extent, we'll have to do our utmost."

    It was the second time in two days that Suu Kyi has struck a note of caution. She warned in a speech to veteran politicians Thursday that achieving democracy in Myanmar formerly known as Burma would not be an easy task and "cannot solve all the country's woes and more difficulties lie ahead."

    She advocated more negotiations between pro-democratic forces and the country's ruling junta, officially known as State Peace and Development Council.

    The junta began closed-door talks with Suu Kyi in late 2000 in an effort to break a decade-old political deadlock. Her party handily won a general election in 1990 but the military refused to let it take power, harassing and jailing party members instead.The talks — so far characterized as a confidence-building measures — have brought few concrete results aside from the slow but steady release of political prisoners and Suu Kyi's own release from 19 months of house arrest on May 6.

    In her speech Friday in Kamayut, Suu Kyi mentioned the issue of political prisoners, saying that 30 political prisoners from the township remain in custody and two died in prison. Human rights organizations estimate that there are 1,500 political prisoners in Myanmar's jails.

    Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her efforts to bring democracy to Myanmar, pledged to work for the unconditional release of all political prisoners and urged party members to continue their political activities.

    Hundreds of well-wishers had greeted Suu Kyi as she arrived by car at the run-down NLD office at Kamayut, about 8 kilometers (5 miles) from downtown Yangon. It was her third visit to a branch office in the Yangon area since being freed.Kamayut township, near the main campus of Yangon University, is known as a hot spot for political demonstrations and many residents of the neighborhood are often supportive of student protests.

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    Burma trial first prosecution witness accuses ex-dictator's relatives

    Source : MSNBC / Reuters

    Rangoon, May 24---The first prosecution witness took the stand on Friday at the treason trial of relatives of former Myanmar military dictator Ne Win, saying the elderly strongman's son-in-law and grandsons had been plotting to mount a coup.

    Major Thet Myo Aung, commander of the army security unit responsible for guarding the elderly Ne Win, told the trial in the compound of Rangoon's Insein Prison that the family had tried to win him over with cash and gifts ahead of the alleged coup.

    Ne Win's son-in-law and three grandsons were arrested in a Rangoon restaurant in March and charged with planning a coup in league with a group of military officers and an expert in black magic hired to provide astrological advice.

    Diplomats say the arrests were a clear sign that Ne Win no longer exerted any influence over the military regime he helped install. Many are doubtful that a coup was planned, saying the accusations were probably the pretext for a purge by the junta.

    The arrests were made weeks before the military released opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from 19 months of house arrest, raising hopes that the country can move towards democracy.

    The defendants in the treason trial face the death penalty if found guilty.

    Ne Win himself has not been charged but is under house arrest at his family's compound on the shores of Rangoon's Inya Lake.

    The four accused appeared in court dressed in white shirts and traditional Burmese sarong-style longyis. They were handcuffed, and sometimes whispered to each other.

    Thet Myo Aung said Kyaw Ne Win, one of Ne Win's grandsons, had told him that a coup would be staged on March 27, and had asked him for help. The prosecution witness said he had also been given cash and gifts.

    ''He gave me a watch, a gold ring and a golf set in 2001, and starting two years ago, 50,000 kyat (about $60) a month in cash,'' said Thet Myo Aung, who was initially accused of being a conspirator but was pardoned in return for giving evidence.

    Ne Win seized power in 1962, heralding the start of four decades of military rule in the country, then known as Burma.

    Establishing himself at the head of a military dictatorship, Ne Win embarked on what he called ''The Burmese Way to Socialism,'' running the country according to a mixture of communist central planning and Buddhist mysticism.

    Under his rule, Burma went from being one of the richest countries in Asia to one of the poorest and most isolated.

    Simmering resentment against the military regime exploded in mass protests in 1988. The demonstrations were bloodily suppressed by the military, but Ne Win stepped down, handing over power to a new generation of generals.

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